Near Maganey

Near Maganey

Late afternoon sunshine illuminates the trees on this high bank of the Barrow River. The Barrow Drainage of the 1920’s deepened the river along its length and the dredged material was deposited on the banks. In many places, like here, this material is still intact, creating interesting landscapes of sun and deep rich shadows.

The sunlit green of the trees against the sky was produced with a transparent mix of yellow and a little blue. Normally highlighted areas in oil painting contain white and are opaque. In this case a transparent film of colour was placed on the wet sky colour. Where this background was mostly white it made the colour glow. Notice when the same colour is placed on a background with less white, how muted it is. To match the tone white was added to the mix used in these areas.

There are 3 colours used in this painting (Indian Yellow, Permanent Rose, Ultramarine Blue) plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits. The size is 16.5″ x 12″.

Here is a video of the painting process. To view in realtime change setting to .25. Quality can also be set up to 1080HD.


The Hidden Cold

The Hidden Cold

The Hidden Cold

A little bit of Eastern European weather came our direction recently. No rain or snow, just cold air. The landscape is desiccated and even the evergreens have yellow and orange colours. Warm colours, cold walking.

When you view the accompanying video, notice the 2 ‘dippers’ on my palette. The lower one contains solvent – White Spirits, a petroleum derivative, the upper one I rarely use and when I do, contains Liquin and solvent. The proportions are 25% Liquin, 75% solvent. I use this when the weather is warm as it slows down the evaporation of the solvent.

‘Dippers’ clipped onto the palette and brushes ‘dipped’ therein is the traditional method of adding solvent or medium to paint mixes. What a mess this makes. How do you keep the liquids clean? I use very few colours and a bit of cross mixing will not do much to ‘dirty’ my colours, but with a large number of different colours, all adding their bit to the liquids, makes it impossible to keep colours from becoming muddy.

I use a plastic pipette and add the liquids to the paint mix. I can add a specific quantity, a drop at a time, until I reach the consistency required. Check it out in the video below.

This painting uses only 3 colours (Indian Yellow, Permanent Rose, Prussian Blue) plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits. The size is 15.75″ x 9.75″ and was painted in a single session in under 2 hours.

To view in realtime change setting to .25. Also, quality can be set up to 1080HD.

November Fog

November Fog

November Fog

The greyness of fog will soon melt away in the morning sun.

I like to have fine line details in my paintings, such as in the trees or foreground grasses. I also like these details to have a natural look. This is a difficult task. Some very small details can be suggested as in the distant trees or the very small branches in the 2 trees on the left in this painting.

I use a very fine nylon brush for the details which have to be seen, the tree trunks and fence posts for example. Carrying a solvent rich quantity of paint on the brush can produce these lines on the wet under colour. The smaller details can be dragged out of these ‘reservoirs’ of liquid paint with the tip of the fine brush. As with the trees here, they were populated quickly with lots of smaller branches using this technique.

For foreground grasses the same applies – blobs of liquid paint are put in place, sometimes outside the edge of the painting and flicked upwards with the fine brush.

This painting uses 4 colours (Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue) plus black and white. All colours are Alkyd Fast Drying Oils, except Cobalt Blue. The medium used is Liquin and White Spirits. The size is 16.5″ x 12″ and was painted in a single session in under an hour and a half.

Here’s the painting process, see you soon.




Dotted across the landscape of Ireland are ‘Raths’, circular forts of ditch and bank construction. There is divided opinions as to their function. There has not been enough archaeological investigation to establish exactly why they were built. Were they defensive fortified homesteads, cattle enclosures, ceremonial areas? Many have survived agricultural destruction because of superstition. They were sometimes called ‘fairy raths’ and woe betide anyone who disturbed the homes of the ‘little people’. The rath which was here, survived up to the ’60’s when it was obliterated from the landscape by a local farmer. Nothing now remains except the name of the area, Shanrath, which in English translates as old fort. I remember it well. We often played here as children but never after nightfall.

I saw this unusual cloud formation one evening recently. Natural phenomena always look odd in paintings, but never in photographs, so I had to make it as ‘normal’ as possible. Part of this process involved putting green into the sky. This would bind the sky to the green landscape to remove any possible disconnect of this unusual sky.

The composition is also unusual. The cottage is placed dead centre with the red cloud and the road appearing to rotate anti-clockwise around this centre.

I used 4 colours, Yellow Ochre, Olive Green, Cadmium Red and Cobalt Blue plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits. The painting is 10″ x 8″ and was painted in about an hour.

Here’s the video of the painting process.




Across the flat midlands of Ireland you will come across small hills and ridges called drumlins, a legacy of the ice age, created by the melt waters as the glaciers advanced and retreated over hundreds of thousands of years. Many have been quarried for their sand and gravel deposits but here and there a few have survived. Like this little hill they add interest to an otherwise featureless landscape.

This is a small painting, measuring 10″x8″ and was painted in about one hour. I usually paint on loose un-stretched canvas which I later laminate onto a rigid board for framing. This was painted on a canvas textured oil painting paper which was sold as a surface for oil or acrylic painting. I found it too absorbent for oils and the colours deadened when the oil in the paint soaked into the paper. So I applied a thin layer of rabbit skin glue size to both sides, letting the first dry before coating the second side. This reduced the absorption and the colours remained vibrant until dry. Applying rabbit skin glue size is an ancient method of ‘sizing’ a surface prior to oil painting. It was found to resist the effects of dampness better than other organic materials, an important consideration in this part of the world.

I know there are modern synthetic equivalents, like ‘polybond’, which are probably as good or better but it takes a few years to see if they work as well, so I’ll stick to the traditional material until further notice. I use the modern material to laminate the canvas or paper onto a board as it does not come in contact with the paint layer. If it fails the worst that can happen is the canvas or paper detaches from the board and not the paint layer detaching from the surface. The modern material usually has a fungicide added and this prevents mildew and fungus from developing in damp conditions.

The colours used are Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue plus black and white. There is no medium used, only White Spirits.

Here’s the video, see you soon.


Edge of the Wood – Time Lapse Painting

Edge of the Woods

There is a lot of ‘scratching’ going on in this painting. Alla prima is to blame. It is practicably impossible to paint a fine line on top of a wet layer of paint. Short strokes are OK, but long unbroken lines, as in the Ash trees on the right in this painting, are a problem.

In a previous post (here), I was talking about brushes. Small brushes can force a painter into tedious details too early in the process at the expense of the overall picture. Using a knife will produce details quickly so the painter does not become bogged down. These ‘scratch’ lines also remove the under layer of wet paint into which the fine lines can be painted. In this painting, I also scratched off larger parts of the under-painting which allowed me to apply the dark colour of the evergreen trees without interference from the light coloured sky paint.

At the other end of the scale is the very large brush, as in house painter’s 2 or 3 inch brush. I don’t like the practise of using these types of brushes to ‘stamp’ a shape into the painting which can produce a monotony of ‘clichés’ which are the mark of the brush and not the ‘mark of the hand’ of the artist.

In painting the foliage of the evergreen trees I used a round brush (No. 4 or about 5mm diameter). Even with most of the wet under-painting removed the brush will still pick up some unwanted colour from the surface. If the brush is rotated as the paint is applied, several ‘dabs’ of clean colour can be applied before the brush needs to be wiped to pick up fresh paint. I’m not advocating painting every single leaf, but clumps of leaves to create a ‘profile’ of the particular tree type.

Here is the video of the painting process. There is more info. on this painting in the previous post. The video is 720 HD and can be watched at a large size by changing the Quality settings on the YouTube bottom panel (see here).

Photography, a great resource for the painter

Foxglove, 'isolated' from the background

As the title of the post suggests, photography is a great resource for the painter. A photograph can be a work of art itself with the limitations of photographic optics often contributing to the artistic effect. One ‘limitation’ of the lens is ‘depth of field’. This onetime ‘limitation’ is very popular nowadays. The photo on the left illustrates ‘depth of field’. The flower is in focus and the background is out of focus. Whatever precise point the lens is focused on, a short distance in front of and behind is also ‘in focus’. This distance is controlled by the aperture setting in the lens (the F numbers, eg 4, 5.6, 8 etc.) and is the ‘depth of field’. A very high F number would have made the background sharp and, in this case, ruined the photograph. It is very much a photographically induced image.

And so to the point of this post. Using a photograph as a reference for a painting is very useful. But including this ‘photographic effect’ in a painting, is painting what a camera sees and not what a person sees. It is not one and the same thing. When I see this effect in a painting it seems to me that the artist copied the photograph and was not using the photograph as an ‘aid’ to producing the painting.

In a still life painting, for example, when the eye focusses on an object in the painting, the brain blurs the other parts of the painting and as one moves from item to item in the painting this is continually happening. Of course you have to ‘isolate’ objects but you do so by more subtle means than ‘photographically’ blurring other areas.

I think this is why a realist still life painting looks more ‘real’ than the photograph of the same objects. I have never heard the comment “I could almost touch these objects” in reference to a photograph but its a common comment when viewing a painting.

May Meadow

May Meadow

No matter how hard you try, you will never find a landscape which can be represented unaltered in a painting. This is, I think, because underlying every good landscape painting is an abstract design which we refer to as a composition. A photograph records the scene as it is, or so we think. The photographer is conscious of the fact he is trying to produce a picture which represents the real world. An example is the orange glow of a sunset. We expect an orange glow in the photo. If however, we take a photograph with the same settings, indoors under halogen light (standard bulb) this orange glow is not acceptable. In this situation our brains process out the orange and we think we are in white light unlike what we see in the photo. There are an infinite number of adjustments which can be made in the camera to adjust the ‘look of the photo’. When the photographer presents us with the final photo our eyes and brain process the 2 dimensional picture and imagine what the original scene was like. We don’t want an orange glow on our indoor photos, nor do we expect the abstract construction we find in a painting, we are looking at the real world.

I take photographs for the sake of taking good photographs but I also take photographs as reference material for paintings. These photographs would not be considered good from a photographic point of view and several would be used to produce a painting. So it was with ‘May Meadow’. This painting is of the lush green of May. But nowhere was there a scene which had this and also a balanced composition, a journey for the viewer along a winding path, a sky we remember from our childhood, an expectation of something else at the end of our journey and much more.

The painting was completed in 1 and a half hours and in a day or two I will introduce a little more colour, mostly reds, to counteract the green and heighten the intensity of the scene. I am preparing a video of the painting process which I will post in a few days.

Bluebell Wood -Tutorial Video

One thing you will notice in this video, as in others, is how dark the painting looks and for how long, in the painting process. The accepted rule for oil painting is to place the dark colours in first and finish by putting in the light. The opposite is true of watercolours, you start by placing the lightest washes first and gradually adding the deeper colours as you progress. Now, every rule is made to be broken and this is where the challenge is, in painting. In my experience, an oil painting which progresses to the light phase too early in its creation doesn’t bode well. The obvious exception to the rule is in landscape where the sky, the lightest part but also the part ‘behind’ everything else has to be painted first. My solution to this dilemma is to split the painting process into the 2 parts, (a) the shy and distant mountains (or hills) and (b) the middle and foreground. The dark parts of the sky are painted first progressing to the lightest highlights of clouds. The colours and brushes used are then put aside and the process, dark to light, is repeated in the remaining part of the painting.

As mentioned in the previous post, a hugh amount of work was done which was not videoed. This was the day after the ‘video’ part. The Liquin was becoming really tacky and painting the enormous amount of detail was easy enough with a long bristled brush. The tacky surface almost pulls the paint off the brush, great for fine detail. Some details were almost black and some almost white. I was constantly washing out the brush to change colour. This brush gets a lot of use and I really don’t give it the respect it deserves. It was inexpensive and classed as a watercolour brush, but one of the cheap ones. Its a nylon brush. It has lasted years where the horrifically expensive sable brush would have been destroyed by the solvents used in oil painting. I really should get a few more similar to this to reduce the time spent cleaning between colour changes. This would also extend the life of the brush as cleaning is far more wearing on a brush than the painting process.

The previous two posts show the two stages of the painting. I hope you enjoy and get some help from the video.

Still Life with White Rose (at last)

Still Life with White Rose (click on picture to enlarge)

You find interesting objects which you think would fit  together to make an interesting still life but what about the background? This painting had 3 changes of background. If you decide on a flat background, OK you just colour it in and place the objects on top. If, however, the background has depth then you are into the realm of ‘landscape’. Here the rules of perspective are important and because you are close up, the extreme end of the perspective issue usually comes into play. There is no easy way around this. Its complicated, suffice to say converging lines are the most important part of working out the shape of items when viewed obliquely.

Converging lines

The shape of the table top was decided by constructing a sketch as above. This is a simple example but the right hand side of the painting was created using the same technique.

I am working on the YouTube videos (2 parts) at the moment, compressing about 6 hours painting time into 2 ten minute time lapse videos. More on this in the future.